Posted tagged ‘crime’

Hacking is the new Rubik’s Cube.

March 21, 2010

The latest trend in the UK is not jeans or sunglasses. It’s not even a new gadget. It’s the simple joy of hacking someone’s Facebook account. It turns out that a large portion of teens are enjoy hacking their friends’ accounts for no other reason than the challenge and fun of it according to a report on BBC. However, a few did admit they hack because they want to screw around with their friend’s account. Hacking is not just to steal your credit cards numbers or sneak into a company’s files. Sometime it’s just to play a prank and with April Fool’s day coming up, I suggest you tighten up those hacking skill if you want to play a trick on a friend. Or you could just send a link to a shock site but I leave it to you to find one because I’m not about to be responsible for scorched retinas.

Wednesday it comes to an end.

March 21, 2010

On Wednesday, I will have finally completed my novel. I don’t mean that I will have reached the end of the novel, put the last word down, but that I will have crested the hill of my fourth revision or so. I am very excited since this means that the final step will take me over the threshold of the crafting stage to the sales stage. To be honest, I am quite nervous. I’m still working on it, cutting, rewriting, and trying to make sure every single plot point matches and makes sense. As far as I can tell, my work is coming to an end, though as the creator of the story I will never be able to look at it as complete. There will always be things that I will think could be better or be improved. It will never be perfect in my eyes, but if I don’t stop myself then I’ll never get to the next stage in which I try to send it into the world. So, once I add in the final revision on Wednesday, expect a celebratory post which will probably include fond reminiscences of writing this thing and final stats such as page count and word count. Until, then readers, keep writing and enjoy the process.

Hackers outdone by Spanish police.

March 4, 2010

A stylish portrayal of a brute attack style

While hackers are often made into rebels with a heart in cyberpunk fiction, the truth is not always so heroic. A group of Spanish police officers recently cracked open a massive botnet operated by three, potentially more, individuals. So far they know that it has infected a total of 13 million computers in 190 countries, infiltrating half of the Fortune 500 companies and 40 major banks. A botnet is a network of hacked computers that act sort of like zombies. Once one is infected by the virus, it will send infected packets to other computers. The brilliance of it is that these are not malicious viruses. The virus does not destroy your computer but instead lies dormant. When the hackers need to, they can instantly access their own personal army of computers who they can instruct to do whatever they need. This can be useful in planning DDOS attacks against large targets or stealing personal info en mass.

Science fiction today, science tomorrow and I’m not even through the first chapter.

March 2, 2010

One of the problems that comes with writing science fiction is that science is moving so quickly. Come up with an idea you think is ahead of the curve and maybe a month or so later you are likely to hear about developments in or relating to that idea. By the time you get your novel out, the technology you thought was so cool and sleek is old news. Every sector of technology is shooting ahead at blinding speed. So what can science fiction writers do to stay ahead or is there any point?

Part of the problem relates back to the issue of creativity. How can one be creative when everything has been done? Synthesis proved to be the answer as far. One can combine parts of existing things to make something new. But does the same apply for coming up with a convincing sci-fi world? Let’s look at the world of computers and cybernetics. Human augmentation, making us faster, stronger, and smarter, depends on robotics, bio-electrics, and neuroscience. All these things have gotten to the point where there are now working prototypes of a system that augments human strength by reading the user’s nerve impulses and telling the exoskeleton to move in the way the person wants. The idea of preserving memories in an external device is also coming closer as neuroscientists learn about how the brain stores memory and the way the brain communicates with itself.  So, these once fictional devices that that would make a human being more human than human are now in the process of being realized as science plunges forward. Even with combining different existing things together, can we ever get ahead of this tidal wave of science? Well, yes and no. Yes, we can stay ahead by imagining what the world would look like with new or developing technologies in full swing. What would happen if every surface could be used as a touch screen? What if we all had augmentation? Part of what sci-fie does is look at not only the technology but our interaction with it as it influences the way society functions. While technology may surpass us, even while we’re in the writing process, there is still the opportunity to examine what would happen once the technology is released into he world. There’s a second option available as well that fairly insures that the science remains fiction and tantalizing for a long time to come.

Stories set in the far future, with technologies that we could only dream about, may not come to be for years. The best part is that one could simply take technologies that exist now and ramp them up the the nth degree. In this way, one maintains the fictional element for much longer though, in this day and age, even that is no guarantee that you might read an article about one of your ideas that will make it seem like you simply copied the idea. The point is that the stories that survive are those that are timeless and having dated technology can either be seen as a benefit, like in Neuromancer which we now look at as a major contribution to our idea of the net, or it can make it seem quaint. A far future story allows one to create a world of technology that will remain elusive for much longer. The final part of the puzzle is how you use it.

The technology being developed can be used in many ways and have many implications. Part of what will keep your story fresh for a long time is the way it addresses social and human issues. People want characters, people they can identify with or at least admire. People are also interested in their social environment and how they relate to it. While society is always changing, always picking up new traits and developing new cultural practices, we can look at cultures around the world and learn how they developed and borrow from them. In the end, characters have to interact with the society in which they live which leads to things we can all identify with or understand. Some characters may want to destroy society. Maybe another wants to fit in. Maybe another is looking to defend society. There are a myriad ways we interact with the social world that, no matter when a book is read, we can understand. These human elements in the end may make the story stick around in people’s minds. Of course, that shouldn’t prevent you from trying to create a world that people will dream about or tremble over for years to come.

Violence in fiction.

February 28, 2010

Categoricals are meant to be broken

My novel Schism takes a look at violence and its consequences. Whether it be in the form of warfare or genocide, my novel does everything possible to show violence as something grotesque and that can only lead to more violence. Think Orestes. Blood only brings more blood, creating a pattern of brutality that, like a ripple in a pond, only grows. Yet, I can’t deny that watching something like Terminator 2 isn’t fun or watching District 9 where people get turned into so much soup (trust me if you haven’t seen it, people get liquified a lot! Gooey-gooey!) doesn’t give me a rush. Now, with the idea I have for my next writing project, my anit-violence stance has gotten switched right around. If I’m going to do right by this new idea, set in a far-future earth, I’m going to have to have violence, brutality, and some plain old crazy stuff. Yet, realizing this makes both my stance against against violence and my new very violent novel sit uneasily in my mind. So I wonder, as a writer, as a creator of art, what is my responsibility?

I don’t think I can abide by Oscar Wilde’s stance that we make, “art for art’s sake.” Art, because of its ability to interact with us on the symbolic level, carries ethical weight that we can’t just drop off or deny. It goes back to the Plato’s debate of how art affects us. Actually, Plato didn’t really like art all that much but never mind him. I feel that art can have a profound affect on the way people see and interpret the world. If this is the case, then we as writers should try to be a positive force. “But isn’t some reading just for entertainment?” ABSOLUTELY YES! In fact, I think first and foremost, we’re here to entertain you however, by entertaining you with characters you like and plots you get hooked into, we’re sort creating material that can influence your thoughts. Humans are excellent copiers. We learn many things through mimicry and if there’s a character you really like who shoots first and then asks how many more people need killing later, that sets up a model that validates the violence since the character is just so darn charismatic. Case in point: Hannibal Lecter. He’s urbane, witty, brilliant, and a psychopathic killer. However, he commands our attention and to a degree earns our admiration. Do a single one of us feel such things for Ted Bundy or John Wayne Gacey? No, but through the medium of art, with just the right character traits, someone who we would usually scream to be executed becomes a character we love to watch every time he’s on screen.

So, the question is, how do we balance being entertaining while still trying to do something positive? I think that this comes in the themes we choose to incorporate in our stories. If we have a book with tons of violence with a theme that says violence is always the best option, then we are getting a double dose message. Violence is both at the surface and below, reinforcing itself as it goes. However, one could have plenty of violence and still have a humanist message beneath it while using violence and action as a way to entertain and grip the reader in suspense. I think that it comes down to rejecting categorical ways of thinking. Violence can serve a purpose in literature. In a story that calls for action, it must be delivered. This doesn’t mean that the story endorses violence, only that the plot is about a violent scenario. Depending on how it’s used and portrayed, a violent story be a wonderful demonstration and defense of more useful, less destructive ways of dealing with each other.

In your cars, jamming your GPS signal.

February 27, 2010

Car theifs have had it rough lately. Unlike in Grand Theft Auto, you can no longer just jack a car and disappear into the sunset or chop shop. With GPS systems like LoJack, a GPS can lock onto your car so authorities can trace it and recover it for you, maybe even nabbing the guy who took it off you. But, like the first illegal prime, if it is protected, someone will find a way to hack it and take it off your hands for you. That’s exactly what car thiefs are doing in the UK. It just goes to show that necessity is the mother of invention though it also shows how insecure and almost tenuous our link to such common staples as GPS navigation is. It doesn’t take much to disrupt a GPS signal apparently. Just think of the ways a terrorist could use that. Hopefully, communications agencies will modify their signals to make it a more reliable system that can’t just be shut off by any car thief with a jammer or someone with far more dangerous intentions.

Cyberpunk and post-cyberpunk. Thoughts on the aesthetics and themes of the technology centered genre.

February 27, 2010
Cyberpunk fashion

It's all going to hell and we can't wait to get there.

Cyberpunk is not dead. Cyberpunk, like the technology is describes in vertigo inducing blasts of techno-babble, is simply evolving. William Gibson had said, “The future is here, it’s just not widely distributed.” This statement came around a time when our digital world was just starting to emerge as the shared nervous system of the entire planet that we are constantly accessing and connected to.

Cyberpunk was and is an ugly, chaotic, nihilistic genre but what can you expect when the portmanteau name has the word, “punk,” in it? One of the reason’s for cyberpunk’s attitude was that borrowed heavily from the noir genre. Noir essentially plunged into the sordid underground urban landscape in which there are no, “good guys,” just not-so-bad-guys. Crime, violence, and sex were all on display (and often mixed together) in noir and cyberpunk borrowed liberally from this menagerie of human monstrosities. The result was something brutal yet, like Raymond Chandler and Dashell Hammet’s works, romanticized so that, despite the graphic nature of the content, we can’t help but feel we’re watching some kind of  twisted poetry. Yet, as technology was distributed and came to saturate every aspect of our lives, cyberpunk could no longer maintain its position that it was dealing with a fringe group of elite-bottom feeders who slapped together personalized cyber-rigs and raided the digital world. Instead, every five year old is now wired in and surfing cyberspace. Obviously, cyberpunk needed had to make a change.

Post cyberpunk came on the scene, updating cyberpunk’s themes and imagery while still maintaining a strong focus on the role of technology and its influence on human affairs. A new series of authors have taken cyberpunk out of the gutters and placed it right into the living room, the school room, and even the swank café. Yet, as Snake Plissken said at the end of Escape from LA, “The more things change, the more they stay the same.” This is certainly true for much of cyberpunk and post cyberpunk in terms of how technology is not used an accessory or a means to an end but often is the end itself. Even more than that, there is a certain aesthetic sense that one can’t help but pick up on when reading or watching something that could be considered cyberpunk or post cyberpunk.

One thing that is found across cyberpunk and its progeny is the techno-porn. In a novel such as this, the technology becomes a character in itself. In hard-boiled detective fiction, the femme fatale of dame was the object to be chased after in addition to the main mystery. In cyberpunk and post cyberpunk, the technology itself is fetishized to an extent, raising issues of body violation and sexuality. Reading through the descriptions of cyberspace beamed directly into a person’s brain in Neuromancer, watching Tatsuo being scanned and tested in Akira, or watching the assembly trailer for Terminator 2, we are given technology as not just science but art. It might seem strange in this day and age in which aesthetics are held second to utilitarian functionality, but older cultures, such as Greeks, would adorn their weapons wich words, names, or pictures because the beauty of the object can both record history and create stories that imbue the object with more than just its base purpose. The converting of an tool into a piece of art brings the object closer to a place in our subconscious where symbols are made and giving meaning and emotional associations. The cyberpunk and post cyberpunk resurrect this practice, turning the hard and technical into the ethereal and beautiful. Speaking of ethereal, cyberspace and its portrayal is a majorly important component that adds a unique edge to these two genres.

Cyberspace is no doubt psychedelic and probably owes a lot to the mind-expanding drugs. The glittering vistas we are given in Neuromancer and Ghost in the Shell are a major change from the gritty urban environments that fill our senses and, again owing to the psychedelic experience, are moments of transcendence. Of course, being centered on materialism, the only transcendence we can hope for is one we’ve constructed ourselves: cyberspace. In these moments, we leave the body and the flesh and experience a world of pure mind. In post cyberpunk works such as Rainbow’s End by Vernor Vinge, the separation of the body and mind becomes less extreme with cyberspace being overlaid on the physical world via augmented reality. The same is seen in Charles Stross’s mind-bending Accelerando. There is a movement in some of these works away from a total submersion in virtual reality to a fusion of the real world the digital though there are plenty of post cyberpunk works in which full immersion is present. But the point is that there is a synthesis going on in which the cyber world and the physical are becoming less and less defined as a general trend towards altering our perceived daily reality takes place. In a way, it is the completion of a trend started by cyberpunk as the digital becomes so central to life that it merges with the ordinary world.

The ordinary world in both genres is often twisted to the point that it is no longer ordinary. Part of the cyberpunk tradition is the creation of a web-like tangle of different groups all struggling for something and, in a post-modern fashion, all these tangential threads meet at some point or at least have influence on each other though they may not realize it. This messy stew of motivations is often in a mystery context as the protagonists struggle to understand the motivations of shadowy and powerful individuals and groups that shuffle them around like pawns which is another major theme. People, as individuals, are always caught between agency, or free will, and being controlled by forces in the corporate and political environment.

Finally, I think a major component to cyberpunk is the color palette. Watch the matrix and notice what the two colors, blue and green, do. Notice how we come to identify the two worlds just by color alone. The same is done in across the board for the most part, there being exceptions of course. But looking at Terminator 2, with its primarily blue, machine tone, the blue and green palette of Ghost in the Shell, and the hazy tones of Blade Runner, we get a feeling from these films that goes beyond just being entertained. These colors work on us at a deeper level than we are consciously aware of. It seems that the colors most commonly used through cyberpunk works are tied to coldness while still being vibrant. For instance, neon and other artificially bright colors are common throughout Total Recall a wonderful example of cyberpunk themed entertainment. The richness of the color suggests a hyper-reality, or a stylization of reality as well as futuristic world. It also ties back to our natural love of shiny object, just like birds. But again, whether the primary source of color is cyberspace or a neon drenched city, color adds mood and personality to the films and books that it is present in.